In a league that is trying to make its mark on the world stage, the A-League has a huge refereeing problem. It is all well and good to have players such as Alessandro Del Piero, Emile Heskey, and Shinji Ono playing in our country. This will raise the profile of the league, and push other players to join in the future. However, if the standard of refereeing remains as poor as it has been in the past few weeks, players will want away, instead of wanting to come to Australia. No one wants to play in a league where the referees are worse than amateurs.
The referees in the A-League are not full-time, but that is just part of the problem. The other part is the interpretation of the laws that they, and the country’s governing body, have. For example, the incident between Ben Williams and Patrick Kisnorbo at the weekend shows the difference between European refs and Australian refs. The “challenge” that Kisnorbo made on Matt Simon may have been a foul to the letter of the law, but it would NEVER have been given in England, Italy, Spain, or in a FIFA tournament.
Instead of trying to manufacture referees through courses and training processes, the A-League needs to find ex footballers who want to take up refereeing as their next career. The reason for this is that their perspective will be different. The current referees clearly have no idea what the game of football is all about. They make decisions based on what a book tells them is right or wrong, not based on the evidence they see in front of them.
Not only are referees making one bad decision after another, but they also appear to be unabashed in doing so. An example is the Newcastle Jets and Melbourne Victory game during the pre season. There was some horrendous refereeing in that game, and fans of both sides were upset by it. When the Newcastle Jets manager went to talk to the ref at half time, he was wildly gesticulated to stay away. The referee did not want to hear a word. This is a huge mistake. Dialogue between managers, players and referees is vital. We see it in Europe week in week out. A ref makes the decision, but is happy to explain it to players and advise them on their future conduct. A-League refs are too busy handing out cards to treat the players with a bit of respect and decency.
Fans have been flocking to A-League games in droves recently. Websites such as www.ticketbis.com.au help them to get tickets, and they are obliging. With attendances at record highs, and fan fever at the extreme, the league needs to nip this refereeing issue in the bud before it begins to turn fans away from the game they love.
This is a very fragile and sensitive time in the future of the A-League. It is a time where the popularity of the league is rising. Figures have shown that TV ratings doubled over the past two-three years, while attendances are up from 2011. This is due to the likes of Del Piero coming to the league, with many new fans excited about the prospect of more talented football being on display. While this is great for the future of the league, it is only positive if those fans stick around.
Fans who have just started watching the A-League in the past year or so, will be particularly perplexed by these refereeing standards. It is possible that they will associate these standards as the norm in the A-League. Then, they will turn on the TV and watch European football, and see how refereeing should be done. At first they will be annoyed, and then they will be a little angry, but eventually they will stop watching Australian football. Even a game involving Messi and Ronaldo can turn into a farce if referees do not make the right decisions at the right time.
The most bizarre move by the league has been to lower the average age of referees each season. While having young and energetic refs makes sense in theory, it does not work out well when they are put in real life situations. These young referees have little experience or know-how about how to officiate a game. They make more mistakes, and risk bringing further embarrassment to Australian football. Instead, officials need to be looking at the referees who have 5 or 6 years of experience in top leagues. These are the refs that will be able to handle the pressure, and make correct decisions when they have to.
It is never easy to make decisions about referees. However, the A-League has to look to the model of referees in Europe and ensure that their officials are making similar calls every week.Google+